Oversight

Uncertainties may keep whistleblowers quiet

image of obama on phone

President Obama objects to whistleblower protections in the NDAA. (White House photo)

Will President Barack Obama’s attitude toward whistleblower protections in the National Defense Authorization Act have a dampening effect on those who might be inclined to expose misbehavior within agencies?

When he signed the NDAA for fiscal 2013 into law on Jan. 2, Obama said certain provisions limit his authority to manage agency officials and he would therefore view them within the context of his responsibilities as chief executive.

Obama’s statement creates doubt about how agencies will handle whistleblower protections for contractors, said Peter Tuttle, vice president of Distributed Solutions and a former Army officer.

“This is especially troubling in regard to the prohibition of reprisal,” he said. “Any doubt here will certainly affect the willingness of contractor employees to come forward and identify gross mismanagement, waste or abuses of authority on government programs.”

In other words, “nothing will be reported if there is no reprisal protection or if nobody is listening,” Tuttle said.

Obama warned lawmakers that his administration would seek to ensure that federal employees do not divulge privileged or confidential information to Congress in the course of exposing mismanagement. But experts say the government is run by a group of people who have known one another for years, and the administration will have a hard time controlling communications between them.

“Relationships happen over decades,” said Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group and a key official in the federal IT community for nearly three decades. “People are married or related to others, and those relationships typically carry more importance than the latest bill language or stated wishes of the political newcomer.”

He added, “We cannot hold back the sea and the waves, no matter our intentions.”

The NDAA, which Obama signed into law Jan. 2, protects contractors from reperscussions when they disclose information that they reasonably believe is evidence of gross mismanagement, abuse of authority or violations of law, including regulations regarding contract competitions and negotiations.

Under the Act’s provisions, an employee cannot be demoted or dismissed unless the move takes the form of a non-discretionary directive and it is within the federal official’s authority to do so.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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